The 3rd article describing in more details part of our experience in Qatar during a Fulbright visit for 6 months.
This is one of the harder articles to write although one of the most important ones for those planning to visit Qatar. I am not an expert on restaurants, I am just merely giving our family’s experience. If I sound like I am advertising for a restaurant, I am not, we just must have just really liked it. To be frank, food is probably the most we enjoyed in Qatar.
Qatar offers a very wide variety of food choices with a wide range of cost. The first restaurant I visited in Doha was Turkey Central on Al Mirqab street, few hours after arriving in Doha. It was not very fancy looking, but I was hungry enough and not that sure about future meals, since I did not have a car at that time. The menu was mostly grilled meats and a mix of middle-eastern salads. My host, Mohammed Alsayed, an engineer at Qatar University proposed a mix of chicken and beef Kabobs and a set of mixed salads including Taboli, Hummus, green salads, yogurt salad and eggplant. The prices were very reasonable less than $6 per person. The aroma of the food as it was being delivered was amazingly delicious. The food itself looked and tasted great.
This simple, low cost restaurant became our favorite restaurant during our Fulbright visit to Qatar. We especially enjoyed their chicken kofta sandwiches which consisted of chicken kofta rolled in a pita bread with tomato sauce. Both these were served hot and sizzling, and were extremely appetizing with their savory flavor. There were multiple restaurants that have a much better atmosphere, service and a similar menu, but somehow Turkey central remained the favorite when it comes to taste. So we learned to just order for take away. Across the street was another restaurant, Al Bukhari, we visited once. They are very famous for lintel soup and it is worth the try.
One of the restaurants offering a similar menu, but in a much more elegant ambiance is Almajlis Al-Arabi. It has at least 2 branches, but the one we visited several times was within a very short distance from the landmark Mall, an upscale mall in Doha. The problem was always finding a parking space. Doha has grown so much in a very short time and parking has become a very difficult problem in the whole city, but especially the Malls. After few visits to all these restaurants, we just got a little tired of the same grilled kabob theme. At the recommendation of another Fulbright scholar we decide to give a chance to an Indian restaurant called Caravan.
Caravan restaurant is on a plaza off of Salwa Road. The plaza has different other restaurants including Pizza Hut, Pandarosa and Starbucks. After fighting the parking problem, we venture into the restaurant, the entrance is appealing and an Indian host dressed in western cloth leads us to our table, lights a candle and leads us to the buffet. A large room lined up with between 20 – 30 items of food. The highlight of the buffet, at least for us, is a small whole grilled lamb served on a bed of rice. I tried carving, but did not seem to be that handy with the knives and a server soon came to save me from carving my own fingers.
Around the room were other Indian, Thai and even Arabic dishes. Everything looked and tasted just great., but the savory taste of lamb remains etched in our memory. The most popular of the sweets in Doha is Omm-Ali. It seems different countries are fighting on the ownership right of Omm-Ali, but the name supports the Egyptian claim on this delicacy. The buffet was 25 QR per person. I do not believe that this would be less than a $25 buffet in the US.
There are plenty of other smaller restaurants on Salwa road close to the Plaza where Caravan is located. The ones we tried for breakfast were Syrian and Lebanese restaurants selling Falafel, Hummus, Foul (beans), eggplant and other traditional Arabic breakfast delicacies.
The Qatari society is a very closed society. It is very hard to get invited into a Qatari home, but we managed to experience the closest we can get to a Qatari Cuisine in a restaurant on the Corniche overlooking the gulf called Bulhambar. We ventured there without any referrals. It was just a perfect winter afternoon with temperature in the 70’s degF. Walking on the Corniche, near the Asian games huge symbol, it is hard to miss that building. It is only few years old, but it is decorated with traditional Qatari rugs and pictures of the old Qatar. This is the first time we have seen workers in a restaurant that were Qataris. The location and authenticity of the environment comes at the price of 100 QR ($35) per person. It is an open buffet. All food has Qatari names that were hard to decipher. The food was very delicious and mostly made up of different types of meat (chicken, lamb, beef, fish) packed within rice and cooked tell extremely tender. The elegantly spiced rice captures all the flavor of the meat. The experience was a great one, but we did not venture there very often.
Although several American restaurant chains such as Pizza Hut, Chilli’s, Applebee’s, Pandarosa are in Doha, we were not in Qatar long enough to miss the American chain food. Prices in American chains are a bit more expensive than their prices in the US. Starbucks was the only American chain that we have frequented to load up on caffeine. A decent cup of coffee can easily make it to the 25 QR. Famous hotels in Doha including the Sheraton with its unique shape and the Ritz Carlton offer very fancy dining western experiences. I loved the salad bar at the Ritz with the fancy smoked salmon, cocktail shrimp and sushi bar.
It is enough to sum this article by the fact that I have gained 15 pounds in the period I spent in Qatar despite the fact that I was exercising during the same period.